The history of liquor in the 15th century was one of gradual advance.
Distilled spirit was generally flavored with juniper berries. The result was known as junever. That’s the Dutch word for ‘juniper.’ The French changed the name to genievre. The English changed to ‘geneva.’ They then modified it to ‘gin.’2 Russians liked their grain spirit without the juniper flavor and named it ‘vodka,’ or ‘little water.’3 The name brandy was derived from the Dutch brandewijn, meaning burnt (or distilled) wine.4
Distilled spirits were largely used for medicinal purposes. Their use as social beverages grew slowly at first.5
History of Liquor by Date
The first written reference to whisky appeared in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise.
- ‘The Dutch were probably the earliest to to distill drinks other than wine, when they made the first gins.’6
- ‘The first mention of a still in Sweden, where the first grain alcohol was made from beer, dates from 1469.’7
On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus planted sugar cane at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. This laid the foundation for what would later become a booming rum industry.8
The distilling of whisky in Scotland appears to have been well established. In the Exchequer Rolls of 1494, King James IV of Scotland granted a large amount of malt ‘To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae.’ The amount granted was enough to distill over 1,500 bottles of whisky.
The End of the Century
As the end of the century approached, drinking brandy recreationally rather than medicinally increased, especially in Germany.9 Commercial production and sale had begun to appear.10
We’ve looked at liquor in the 15th century. Now it’s time to explore its story in the 16th century.
Resources for the History of Liquor in the 15th Century
Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1985.
Cherrington, E. (Ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1925-30.
Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: Brill, 1970.
Ford, G. Wines, Brews, & Spirits. Seattle: Ford Pub, 1996.
Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008.
Heath, D., (Ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.
Samuelson, J. The History of Drink. London: Truber, 1878.
Sutherland, D. Raise Your Glasses. London: Macdonald, 1969.
References for the History of Liquor in the 15th Century
1 Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, p. 8.
2 Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S., (ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963, pp. 173-174.
3 Roueche, p. 174.
4 Seward, D. Monks and Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1979, p. 151. Roueche, pp. 172-173.
5 Watney, J. Mother’s Ruin: A History of Gin. London: Peter Owen, 1976, p. 10. Doxat, J. The World of Drinks and Drinking. NY: Drake, 1971., p. 98.
6 Sournia, J.-C. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 17.
7. Sournia, p. 16.
8 Ford, G. Wines, Brews, & Spirits. Seattle: Ford Pub, 1996, p. 17.
9 Braudel, F. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. NY: Harper and Row, 1974, p. 171.
10 Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: Brill, 1970, p. 97.